Answer Man

The Pittsburgh Steelers are at the halfway point and are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Here's the guy with more answers than questions.

Q: Well, here we are at the halfway point with a 6-2 record. What's your assessment?

Answer Man: This team is really good, a really good team in terms of how it stacks up against the rest of this league. The defense is better than – well, I don't know that there's any better in the league; I haven't seen any yet. And it's certainly a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Everybody's talking about the linebackers, and they are borderline spectacular, but what makes this defense better I think than ‘Blitzburgh' – and I think because of the sacks there's been that comparison – but I think the defensive line on this team is better. I think Aaron Smith is better than any of the ends that played then. Joel Steed was a Pro Bowl nose tackle, but I think Casey (Hampton)'s better than him. And I'd take Brett Keisel a hundred times over Brentson Buckner. And I think the depth is better on the defensive line. The other thing when you look at that comparison, you don't have anyone as dynamic as Rod Woodson at corner in this secondary. Troy (Polamalu) and Carnell Lake are very, very comparable in how good they are, but they're different kinds of players. The depth of this secondary is a little bit better than the depth of that secondary, and like I said I like the defensive line better. But that's a long, roundabout way of getting to what I really think of this defense. I think the offense can be good enough if we're smart about it.

Q: Is this great defense enough to overcome the protection issues and lead the team to a championship?

AM: The offensive line is typically identified with being synonymous with protection issues, and I don't think that's the case. I think it played better with (Byron) Leftwich against the Redskins, and the reason I think that it did is because Ben (Roethlisberger)'s just not good at that 3-step drop game. I love Ben. We don't win the last Super Bowl without him; any one we're going to win in the near future isn't going to be without him, either. So, I think he's one of the three best quarterbacks in football, and that's including the guy running around with the model. But either this offense has to change or he has to change. I personally think the offense should change, but the reality of where you are right now eight games into a season, except for some minor things in terms of playcalling, you're going to be what you are. You're not going back to the power running game that you had with (Jerome) Bettis. You just don't have that personnel anymore. You don't have the fullback. It's just not in place. We have three tight ends, though.

Q: The fullback's not bad and one tight end's injured. Do you still say there's no hope?

AM: Well, I don't know. I have hope, but I don't want to go too hard on (Bruce) Arians. I just think that when you look at the average per carry with (Willie) Parker and (Mewelde) Moore, it's not that bad. I mean, you could run more. Now, if I could magically create an offense that would be best for Roethlisberger, it would be one that ran the ball, and then when he threw, there'd be more seven-step drops, play-action, and look intermediate and deep, none of this sideways (fecal matter). If I'm going to gain three yards, I'm handing the ball off and letting my offensive linemen come off the ball and smack somebody in the mouth. I want play-action to mean something, and then I throw the ball down the field. That's not what we're doing here now. Everybody knows that.

Q: But you can't go back and draft LeRon McClain instead of Dan Sepulveda in the fourth round, can you?

AM: Well, no.

Q: Isn't that when the thinking started to change around here?

AM: No fullback, he said that before he was hired, so it started before that. I mean when Mike Tomlin came in, this is what he was getting in terms of an offensive coordinator. Fundamentally, Bruce Arians would like to be able to run the ball to win the game, play attrition football.

Q: Would he? Or would he like sparkling stats?

AM: Well, both. You can't have both, and what you want more becomes revealed over time. If you ask Bruce Arians, he'd say winning is more important, and I believe he means that. See, the problem with the job is these offensive coordinators control way too much in this league. They run the games on Sundays. What else is there? Roger Goodell can send his boys out to review, fine, come and do dog-and-pony shows, but on Sundays when they put the balls on the tees, the people running those games are the offensive coordinators -- maybe even more than the officials. And I'll tell you what, it's a job a lot of people think they can do better. But I don't know what's going to happen. A lot of this stuff we're talking about seems monumental, and I don't know that it is. But you pick at every little thing to try and find out what you can do about it, because this team is so good. There isn't anybody else playing that scares me. There's no New England. There isn't a game that worries me. Want to go to Tennessee for a game? Let's go. Get the plane ready. Kerry Collins? I'm sorry, it doesn't do it for me. Peyton Manning isn't what he was a few years ago. Their whole team is old. The Chargers? I mean, you're firing defensive coordinators at mid-season. That's not a good situation there and I don't know that they get that back magically in the second half. The Ravens? Denver? Joey and the Dolphins? And then in the NFC, we're playing them all. Anyone that's any good in the NFC, we will have played. The Eagles? Dick LeBeau will beat that West Coast offense every time. Just don't go there and help them. The Giants? Do you like Ike (Taylor) matching up with Plax? I do. And you wouldn't have to go the Meadowlands to play them in the Super Bowl. Dallas? I mean, is Jessica going to be there. That's all I really want to know.

Q: You mentioned the Eagles. That's what I mean when I say the offense should become more conservative. I've talked to people on the defensive side who agree with me. There's some anger there. You don't see that developing into a problem?

AM: Well, you say it, and I'm not calling you a liar, but I don't want to come across endorsing that as fact. Hey, there are a lot of tests that come with being a head coach. Mike Tomlin has to weigh it and see if it's insubordination or something that should be considered. I think it depends on who's bringing it to his attention and how it's presented. We'll see how that works out. But I do believe that without help from either special teams or the offense, I don't believe this defense will give up more than two touchdowns in any game or any other game that we would have to play, the eight left, the playoff possibilities, or any NFC team that would be there at the end. That's 14 points, so you'd only have to score 17 points to win. If it was me in charge, that's how I would be thinking. Not that I'm playing for 17 points, but that may be all I need. To me that's a drastic difference because you can still be aggressive – just get out the video of the 2005 playoffs.

Q: Wasn't that more surprise than anything? Aren't defenses playing them as a pass-first team now?

AM: You may be a pass-first, run-second team, but you just have to show enough run-second ability on video so that when you throw play-action it's effective whenever you use it. The personnel can be questioned, but I'm not sure because I haven't seen it attempted enough. I'd like to see them let the kid from the Bronx punch some people in the mouth a little bit more often. Maybe if they get hit in the face enough times, they'll flinch a little bit.

Q: So are you agreeing with me? Or giving Arians the benefit of the doubt?

AM: Is this off the record or on?

Q: On.

AM: Yeah, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

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